Open Seating, by Mickie B. Ashling
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: June 10, 2016
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Seth Wilder lost his partner of twenty years to suicide two weeks before a long-anticipated cruise. Cancellation insurance was never purchased, and Seth can’t get a refund. Bryce McFarland, his late partner’s gym buddy, appreciates his predicament, and when asked, agrees to accompany him on the trip. This way, Seth recoups the money and doesn’t have to cancel his plans. The gesture is unexpected but accepted gratefully.
The two men have nothing in common. Seth is a reclusive romance writer, and Bryce is a hard-core Grindr user with major commitment issues. Out of necessity and despite the seemingly insurmountable differences in personality, they develop a tentative rapport. As they begin their journey through the UK, Bryce helps Seth come to terms with his partner’s sudden death while Seth, in turn, discovers the root cause of Bryce’s phobia.
Shipboard romances rarely work. Sensible men resist, sexual tension notwithstanding. But a full moon and late summer breezes lend themselves to the impossible situation, barriers are crossed, and a love affair is kindled.
Initially, after reading the blurb, my reaction to this book was not very positive. I instantly started to judge Seth, who chooses to continue to go on this cruise he’s purchased with his now deceased partner. My immediate reaction was very negative because I felt that it would have been too soon, it would be too hard, too everything. After a few minutes if contemplation, I decided I wanted to read this just to see if the author was able to take something I felt was tasteless, and make it something good.
Seth’s decision to continue on with the cruise was not only because it was be a huge financial loss. There was also that will to continue on living. Seth makes the decision that he’s going to go on the cruise, do the land tours, see the sights he’d wanted to visit for years, and make good memories. At first I was really puzzled about the decision, but part of that was I didn’t understanding the suicide. I still don’t but one of the things that the author does well in this story is giving the reasons, letting Seth and Bryce talk through those reasons and because of the care that was given, there is a certain level of acceptance. There are some really hard moments when these discussions take place, but I felt so much more at ease with Seth, for Seth, and it gave me a little more compassion and understanding to his predicament, and choices.
During the weeks of travel, Seth and Bryce go from a mild tolerance, to full on relationship. It’s fast, but approached with care. The attraction is there from the beginning, but it’s the deep conversations that take them to the next level. Traveling with someone for weeks, in close quarters, constantly in each other’s space, will give anyone prime opportunity to get to know one another. This time flows well, the characters both open up and walls come down, leaving both of them ready to move forward together.
There are a few things that still bothered me about the story. Bryce and his behavior on one evening in particular rubbed me wrong, given how adamant he is about safety, knowing your surroundings, and general awareness, he has one bad argument and all that goes out the window. There are also little moments when both Seth and Bryce seem to all of a sudden think differently toward each other. Yes, there are reasons for the changes, but it was how abrupt they were that irked me.
I was also really miffed at the relationship Seth had with Mark. We don’t get to see any of their relationship, but Seth is painted as being oblivious to the health issues there were plaguing Mark. That really bothered me, along with Mark not speaking up and sharing. It cuts close to home for me as I have had some recent experience when it comes to health issues and partners. Not communicating openly and honestly, and also often, really bothers me. To have that be a major issue in a relationship that went 20 years with no problems? I had trouble seeing it. But, even with these little niggles, I still enjoyed myself a whole heck of a lot.
They’ve moved very quickly and it will take more time in the real world, away from the vacation, to see if they really work well together. There are also other issues in play, so the very abrupt ending didn’t take me by surprise, thankfully. Seth and Bryce are also not young… well, not super young. Both are in their mid to late 40’s, giving the story a much more mature feel. The main side characters, an older couple, were also wonderful. I’m hopeful that in the follow-up we’ll get a little peek of them.
So, this was a surprising book for me, and I look forward to the sequel.
Mickie B. Ashling is the pseudonym of a multifaceted woman who is a product of her upbringing in multiple cultures, having lived in Japan, the Philippines, Spain, and the Middle East. Fluent in three languages, she’s a citizen of the world and an interesting mixture of East and West. A little bit of this and a lot of that have brought a unique touch to her literary voice she could never learn from textbooks.
By the time Mickie discovered her talent for writing, real life got in the way, and the business of raising four sons took priority. With the advent of e-publishing—and the inevitable emptying nest—dreams of becoming a published writer were resurrected and she’s never looked back.
She stumbled into the world of men who love men in 2002 and continues to draw inspiration from their ongoing struggle to find equality and happiness in this oftentimes skewed and intolerant world. Mickie discovered gay romance shortly after becoming a fan of the TV show “Queer As Folk”. After the series ended, she began writing QAF fan fiction to put her own HEA spin to the ambiguous ending. One thing led to another, and she submitted her first original manuscript to Dreamspinner Press in December 2008. Horizons was published in April 2009.
Her award-winning novels have been called “gut wrenching, daring, and thought provoking.” She admits to being an angst queen and making her men work damn hard for their happy endings.
Author website: http://mickieashling.com/
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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.